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Louisiana considers easing its harsh marijuana laws

While other states have been loosening their marijuana laws in recent years, Louisiana still has some of the toughest penalties for marijuana possession in the nation. However, that could change due to several bills now under consideration in the state legislature.

Under Louisiana law, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning that penalties for possession of marijuana can be just as bad as they are for possession of heroin and worse than they are for possession of cocaine. Many states - including some of Louisiana's Southern neighbors - have eased their penalties for first-time offenses of marijuana possession, but Louisiana residents can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and be fined up to $500 for a first offense.

Repeat offenses get even harsher treatment. A second offense on marijuana possession can bring five years in prison and a fine of $2,500. A third offense can mean 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000.

As a result of these and other laws, a huge number of people are serving long sentences in Louisiana prisons for simple pot possession. According to a 2013 report by the Department of Corrections, there were 400 people in Louisiana prisons for first or second offenses of marijuana possession, serving an average sentence of 18 months.

Several bills working through the legislature seek to roll back Louisiana's marijuana laws. They include proposals to ease medical marijuana, reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug and reduce sentences for those convicted of possession. Some of them enjoy broad support, but many face stiff opposition.

In the meantime, those facing drug charges in Louisiana are still threatened with some of the harshest penalties for these crimes anywhere in the nation. It's crucial for those accused to have the best defense strategy available and for them to work hard to protect their futures.

Source: NOLA.com, "Louisiana DAs seek to stymie bipartisan effort to ease marijuana restrictions," Lauren McGaughy, March 14, 2014

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